Millions of Americans wake up every weekend with a throbbing headache and often no choice but to run to the bathroom to revisit what they consumed the night before. Yet when it comes to hangovers and all the folk knowledge about how to alleviate them, scientists are still discovering more ways to cure the so-called Irish flu and how to prevent it.
Members of the Alcohol Hangover Research Group will gather for their annual conference in Seattle this weekend to discuss what hangovers can tell human beings about our own brain functions. Psychology professor Richard Stephens has been studying the alcohol-related phenomenon for 10 years but, during a conversation with the Atlantic, he admitted that academics still have a long way to go before they know the specifics about what happens in the brain between Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Previous research has proven, perhaps not surprisingly, that it’s almost always an empty promise when an individual swears off drinking forever, and that hangovers actually do become more bearable as drinkers age. But hangover science is only beginning to find its footing after years of struggling to secure funding and respectibility.
“Most researchers are looking at the acute effects of alcohol or more direct questions around what leads to alcohol use disorder,” Stephens said. “One of the reasons we still don’t know much is because the research effort in this area is much less ... than in other areas, and maybe rightly so. Maybe there are more pressing questions around alcohol that are being funded, but one thing about science is that you can never discount where the next big discovery is going to come from.”
What scientists do know is that it takes more than a Gatorade and an Advil to recover from a night of hard drinking. The average time it takes people to get back to normal is about 24 hours, according to Wired.
They’ve also discovered that our bodies metabolize not only ethanol in alcohol, but also small amounts of methanol, which is toxic. In doing so, Stephens noted, humans break down ethanol first and the small amount of methanol in alcohol second. When it metabolizes methanol, the poison is broken down into the poisonous toxins formaldehyde and formic acid. Simply put, the more alcohol our body has to break down, the more poisoned (or drunk) we become.
As for the cure, most college students have devised their own remedy. Common solutions include Alka-Seltzer, sports drinks, the sauna treatment, coconut water, or just some serious relaxation on the couch. Stephens didn’t comment on any specific home-grown cure, only saying the best way to eliminate a hangover is to avoid drinking entirely, but if that’s impossible he said the best idea is to chow down.
“In Britain one of the most prevalent hangover cures is a big fried breakfast – fired eggs, sausages, baked beans, and all the rest – that’s well-renowned as a hangover cure in Britain, and it probably does work because there are a lot of carbohydrates in that meal. And it will restore depleted blood sugar levels.”